Orange cat, oddly missed

Wandering beast is wanted more than its owners could have known

November 26, 2006|By Harry Merritt | Harry Merritt,Sun Reporter

Sometimes I marvel at how the old truths continually prove themselves true, like the one that says you don't know what you've got until you lose it.

My wife and I are feeling that way a lot these days, ever since our strange but endearing cat, Dwight, ran away.

We don't know how he managed to escape. We've been having work done on our house almost steadily since the end of July, but on the day Dwight got out, no workers were scheduled to be there. Maybe Dwight sprouted opposing thumbs that allowed him to open a locked door and flee.

Maybe he was sick of our cold, disordered house, all the strange men coming and going, the jackhammering and pounding, the high-pitched screech of trucks backing up our driveway.

We've spotted Dwight a couple of times since, even left a bowl of food for him, but we haven't been able to catch him.

Dwight was never allowed outdoors unless I carried him. He did not like wearing his nametag and didn't have it on when he escaped the day before Halloween.

We got Dwight on Fourth of July weekend in 2003, nearly a year after our orange lap cat, Paul, died at the age of 23. My wife, Susan, spotted a notice on the bulletin board at the Giant on York Road, offering an "orange boy" to a good home. She talked me into going with her to a northeast Baltimore neighborhood to check him out, in hopes he would be a worthy successor to Paul.

The orange boy turned out to be a tense, skittish 2-year-old with long legs and a very long tail. It was obvious he had never been shown much affection. He did not like to be picked up or held, and he fought us when we put him in the cat carrier to take him to his new home in Towson.

The cat had already had a couple of names, common names that I recognized as surnames of long-ago presidents. I suggested a third, also from a president: Dwight, as in Eisenhower. Then Susan noted that the cat's pipe-stem legs called to mind a very different Dwight: Yoakam, one of my favorite singers. The cat didn't care what he was called. He seldom answered to anything except the sound of food being prepared.

Dwight's approach to his world was utterly self-serving. If your lap happened to be in sunshine or bright lamplight, he would rest there a moment; otherwise, no deal. He had no use for our sweet old golden retriever.

Dwight made his presence known by knocking folk art off shelves, breaking things, and - one of his specialties - jumping up and down on the metal radiator covers every morning at 5 to get us out of bed to feed him. One cold winter morning, courtesy of Dwight walking on the CD player, we were jolted awake by the Sandtown Children of Praise singing "This is the day that the Lord has made."

"Here comes the little sociopath now," we would say to each other when we heard the bell on Dwight's collar.

Slowly, Dwight figured out we weren't so bad. He came to accept being held for a few minutes wherever we were and would even ask to be picked up. He seemed pleased that I could purr better than he could. He even warmed up - a little - to the dog.

But when midsummer came and the work began on the house, I made sure to put Dwight in a closed room whenever I could. He hated it, so many mornings he hid from me.

The day the workers weren't supposed to be there turned out to be a day of freedom for Dwight - in ways we'd never imagined. We don't know when he escaped, but Susan saw him in the driveway that night. By the time I got home, he was nowhere to be found.

We were despondent. We miss the little monster and we want him to come home.

A house without a cat is not much fun, so we have agreed to adopt a friend's 7-year-old cat, who needs a new home.

If Dwight shows up, he's in for a big surprise.

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